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Detroit police identify 128 'high risk' officers following 7 Investigation

'I haven't found any other police agency that's being this proactive,' Chief says
Posted at 3:41 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 18:26:23-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — The Detroit Police Department has identified 128 officers on the force today as “high risk,” promising to retrain or reign in officers with concerning behavior trends.

The announcement comes as a result of a series of 7 Action News investigations that revealed officers sued as many as a dozen of times, some charged repeatedly by prosecutors or accused over and over of using racist language and excessive force.

“Overwhelmingly, the officers in this department do what they’re supposed to do,” said Chief James White, who created the new risk management unit. “And when you have an outlier, I think it’s equally important to hold those officers accountable.”

White ordered the top to bottom review of the entire 2,600 member police force late last year. The department-wide assessment is not just a one-off, but a new way to continually monitor officers’ risky behavior going forward, White says.

Following earlier reports by 7 Action News, the department acknowledged that its Management Awareness System, or MAS, had been using since 2008 to monitor officer misconduct was out of date, missing red flags that allowed too many problem cops to slip through the cracks.

Asst. Chief David LeValley says the MAS system flagged an officer only if he or she racked up repeated misconduct in a short period of time, but it too often missed bad behavior that was stretched out over years, or longer.

Under the new risk management unit, each officer is given a “risk score” generated by their number of citizen complaints, discipline, how often they use force, are involved in vehicle chases and vehicle accidents over the span of their career.

“It gives us a real time picture as to the risk activities that they’re engaging in right now,” LeValley said.

What the department found is that 128 officers on the street today—or 5% of the force—are considered “high risk.”

Most have been on the force for five years or less and a numbe, the department says, were trained or supervised by officers with their own troubled histories.

Two of the supervisors include Lieutenant Willie Duncan, who just last year was charged with criminal sexual conduct, and Sgt. William Zeolla, who leads the department in complaints and has been sued at least 12 times.

“What is alarming is the rate at which some of these officers over the last two years are generating these activities compared to the rest of the department,” LeValley said.

The goal of the new system is to flag early warning signs in an officer’s behavior before bad conduct becomes ingrained.

Last week, 7 Action News revealed how two Detroit officers conducted an improper police chase that ended in a young woman’s death.

Officers deliberately kept their lights and sirens off and attempted to keep their dash camera off too in what a sergeant said amounted to a cover-up.

You’ll find both officers on the “high risk” list for conduct that happened before that improper chase. They’re each now awaiting discipline that could include termination.

“We’ve made some assignment changes based on risk,” Chief White said. “We’re going to be creating some individualized training opportunities for people that have hit our risk score and we’re also going to be preventing some assignments.”

DPD officials plan to change risky behavior through a months-long monitoring period. Each officer on the list will meet at headquarters with an assistant chief or the chief himself, instructed on how their conduct needs to change.

A sergeant will accompany the officers on runs, their body camera footage will be randomly checked and they’ll go through intensive retraining, if needed.

If the officer shows a pattern of targeting certain groups, like people of color, they’ll meet with Mary Engelman, DPD’s new Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“The work is tough,” Engelman said. “Because you’re dealing with people and you’re dealing with cultures and you’re dealing with biases.”

The goal, says Asst. Chief LeValley, is not to fire officers but to change their behavior.

“At some point I’m sure some officer that participate in this process aren’t going to change, and we’ll take the appropriate steps at that time,” he said.

It’s early, but Detroit Police Commissioner Ricardo Moore say he’s optimistic the new system will shine a light on Detroit’s troubled cops.

“If you have a police chief who sides with the police and believes in the blue culture, so to speak, things will slide through the cracks,” Moore said.

“I believe our current police chief, James White, is not that person.”

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.